This post has been a long time coming and won't be that garden focussed but for those of you who ask why I always feel the need to stand up to the bullies here goes...........
Gardens, plants and growing have been my life for as long as I can remember. A yearning to be outside, growing beautiful plants and creating wonderful spaces is my reason for being and I consider myself the most fortunate person alive to be in the position I am, not just doing this myself, but also supporting other people to join in, have a go and celebrate their success. It gives me untold joy to support people and organisations to improve their environments with gardens, be they productive or ornamental, large or small. And the way these spaces change communities, getting them up and active, engaged and excited, is the most humbling and amazing thing. I am, to use a social media phrase, blessed.
But throughout this career have been some very dark periods, all of which have been created in the first instance, by bullies.
Workplace bullying is difficult. It is often wrapped up in conversations along the line of conflicting personalities and comments around ability and the bully knows exactly what they are doing, and how careful the line must be that they tread whilst constantly dripping negativity about the person into the ears of everyone around them. For months I dreaded opening my emails, and regularly received emails telling me I was wrong and he was right. On one occasion these led to a a huge dispute between directors who at that point were seemingly taking sides, and a huge argument in my office, with me there, about how the issue was being dealt with. I dreaded going to work, despite being totally in love with the beautiful walled garden nursery I was managing, because here was someone I had to liase with daily who was trying to get rid of me. To drive me out.
Fortunately at the same time I joined Twitter and looked for other gardeners, and the relief was palpable when I was able to join in conversations, support others to garden and slowly, very slowly, although work was beyond distressing, I began to believe in myself a bit more. I started to run workshops, to have a horticultural life away from the workplace and things felt like they might be ok.
But as with everything, there are highs and lows and a year before I left this workplace I had a serious breakdown. It followed an event where the bully had openly been slating me for being "lazy and useless" when a good pal was in the room, and unbeknownst to me, she made a formal complaint and it was taken to HR, who were so concerned they suggested that the gross misconduct line had been crossed and he should leave. But that didn't happen and instead he upped the pressure, finding my Twitter account and recounting it to the owners of the business. At this point they knew nothing of the workshops and courses because I had done them in my own time, either at weekends or taking annual leave, but they insisted they stop if I wanted to continue to work there. Very quickly Twitter went from being my safe space to one where I could say very little, despite having closed my account down so tightly that for several months I didn't even allow new followers.
And then I received a call. A call that I thought would change my life. A call to be interviewed for a job where the owner of a nursery had asked to meet me. Someone who at that time I admired was headhunting me! So off I went to the interview, and got the job. And jumped straight from the bullying pan into the bullying fire. Constantly being told you know nothing, being made to feel like you have no voice, that you are useless, that you aren't interested in plants, or gardens, that you are slow, that anyone could do better, that you aren't trusted to water the plants..............
But at this point I knew what was happening. I had seen the bully for what they were. Just that. A bully. I had tried to have conversations, to work harder, to prove myself but after the first few weeks I knew I needed to be brave and leave. The final decision came when I was told that there were concerns about my "severe" depression, which was frankly not correct but more worryingly I knew the information had yet again been gleaned through social media and at that point I took control. They let me go stating non transferrable skills which made me hoot as the skill that I didn't have was driving. It had been assumed I would drive the owner around in the evenings to talks and events, which had never been mentioned at the interview and which I would never have agreed to. I left with my head held high and at that moment promised myself that I would never be afraid of a bully again.
Why are you telling us this tale now I hear you asking.
What is your point Sara?
Well without going into the minutae, bullying happens on many scales and I have promised to stand up, with a lot of other people, to a particular bully in the city. And I am scared. I want to run away. I am close to tears and I feel alone. My voice feels broken, silenced in fear. I woke up this morning and for the first time in 5 years didn't have an immediate tweet, was afraid to speak my truth.
Name drop alert here, but last year I sat in a garden with Dave Myers and spoke openly about all this. Sadly it didn't make the cut, but he and the entire team were moved beyond words by the strength it sometimes takes to stand up and ignore the negative voices. Horrified that an industry that seems to be all about the environment, making beautiful spaces and being kind to our planet, can be so cruel and harsh. After leaving the last job it appeared it was a well known fact that the person was like this and it soon transpired there was a whole line of people before me that had been through the same. But no one will speak, even years after, in the belief that they signed a confidentiality clause in their contract and they would be honed down on by solicitors and the law. I never signed that clause, but equally I am never going to name names. That would make me the bully and that is something I am super conscious of, but it never fails to amaze me how years later the effects can still be seen in people. It never leaves you. The fear is what remains.
Why am I telling you this now? Because it is my truth and it explains a lot about how important i feel compassion and kindness is. Because I feel like bullies can create huge and unpleasant schisms and that isn't fair on all the people it affects. Because bullying leads to poor mental and physical health that over the years it becomes harder and harder to bounce back from. Because I hate to think that anyone might have been so abjectly affected by it that at times they may too have felt, or feel like their voice is squashed and they are silenced.
Today its Valentines Day and as it draws to an end I have just seen a post from a friend on Facebook asking whether Valentines could be repurposed into a day where we promise to treat people with care and respect in the year to come. So here I am committing to do just that. To lead with kindness from my core in everything I do, because that is the only way we are going to find a kinder world.
And finally, if this resonates with you don't be afraid to get in touch, but also to look at the link below. You still have your voice however much you feel like you can't use it, and someone will help you to speak your truth............xx